Area residents remember 9/11

In speaking with area residents about the impact Sept. 11, 2001 had on their personal lives, outlooks, and relationships, it became evident that the events of that day have not faded from memory and still continue to exert a dramatic influence on the American consciousness. It seems no matter where they were or what they were doing at the time, people remember that morning and the subsequent events, even if they were very young at the time. St. Marys native Charlie O'Leary, currently a student at the University of Notre Dame, was in his fifth-grade classroom on the morning of Sept. 11 and could clearly recall what happened."On Sept. 11, I received a note [in class] from a schoolmate saying that some buildings in New York had collapsed. Nobody else seemed to be talking about it, though, so I kept it to myself," O'Leary. "Later that day, the entire school went to church and prayed the Rosary, and nobody told us why. It wasn't until we were walking back to school that word began to spread about what actually happened. I remember going home that day and seeing it on the news. But New York seemed so far away, so I don't think I quite grasped the immensity of it until I learned that a plane had also crashed in Pennsylvania. "That feeling of the world crumbling and not knowing what to do about it stuck with me, and I think that if I had been a little older, that's what 9/11 would've meant for me. Personally, however, my world has mostly just changed in that I'm more cautious when traveling and more aware of my surroundings." Recollecting what happened that day, Lisa Fitzgerald of St. Marys said that her brother-in-law was on a business trip that morning when his plane was grounded. "All the flights were grounded. The scariest part was not knowing," Fitzgerald said. "You didn't know what could happen next. It makes you appreciate your loved ones even more and having them around."Andrea Dornisch of St. Marys watched the events unfold on television. "My kids were in school and I wanted to run and get them," Dornisch said, adding that it is hard for her to believe the event took place 10 years ago. "It feels like yesterday. I hope our country never experiences something like that again," she said. Dornisch also said that she and her husband were on a plane shortly after Sept. 11, when upon landing the passengers began to applaud the crew. "The pilots did such a good job and I think that something so devastating like what happened on 9/11 makes you appreciate what you took for granted before, like traveling safely, for instance," Dornisch said.Ruth Dailey of Brandy Camp was on a cruise bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, in celebration of her Sept. 13 birthday. She described learning about what was happening the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 as "total shock" and said passengers were concerned that because they were not able to make outbound phone calls from the ship to check on loved ones at that time, although they eventually were able to contact friends and family when they reached Halifax."They [people in Halifax] were so nice. They said they were sorry. They even set up phones for us to call our family members," Dailey said. Dailey's cruise, which had left from New York City on Sept. 7, returned a week later, with cleanup and the search for survivors still in progress. "When we came back to New York City about seven days later, it was still smoldering," Dailey said. "I really think it's something we should never forget." Shelly (Gahr) Straub, a native of Kersey, said was she engaged in normal household chores and everyday thoughts that morning until she turned on the television. "I was at home feeding my baby breakfast and planning what to do for my [upcoming] birthday," Straub said. "I watched the second plane hit live on 'The Today Show.'"St. Marys native Stacey Brunelli was teaching first grade in Schenectady, N.Y. where people she knew were personally affected by the events happening in New York City. "I remember a fifth-grade teacher hurrying out of the school because his brother-in-law worked in one of the towers. Unfortunately, his brother-in-law died that day," Brunelli said. "A good teacher friend of mine had a boyfriend who lived and worked in the city and she was panicked trying to reach turned out he was OK. It was just a very emotional day because it really hit home." Pam Mertel, a native of St. Marys and a teacher of students with learning disabilities, was in her classroom in Fredericksburg, Va., when the Twin Towers in New York City were hit and when the third of the four planes hijacked by terrorists that day rammed into the Pentagon. "Many of the parents of the students at my school worked in D.C. and several worked at the Pentagon," Mertel said. "Thankfully, none of them were injured, but the students were afraid to be away from their parents after that." Dean Hanes of St. Marys said the amount of attention and publicity the 10th anniversary of the attacks has received should be given to the occasion every year. He said that his father, a retired Navy man who was 60 years old at the time, went to the armed forces when the "war on terror" began and asked, "Can you use me?" Hanes said that with men like his father, it is "country first and family second" and that he supports "what our troops are doing." Heidi Schmidt, an associate at the St. Marys Public Library, said that her son, a naval officer, has served three tours of duty in Iraq. She also said that because of 9/11, she began looking to the news for answers and has continued to watch ever since. "I wanted to see the truth, wanted to know what happened and why," Schmidt said. Schmidt, who at one time lived in New Jersey and whose husband had worked in Manhattan, said she has friends directly affected by the attacks. "None of us forget; it's not something you forget. Lots of great heroes on that day," she said.